EURO 2012: Teams hoping for the last Olympic chance must watch as others decide their fate

Denmark's march from meltdown to miracle; will they go all the way?

To some extent, the final main round day became a bit anticlimactic, as three teams had already secured their places in the semi-finals. But there was still a lot of drama. Mainly this involved the Germany-Poland game, a match-up between rivals that is always emotional even when very little is at stake. But today this game could have meant that Germany would have been in the semi-final. They started out poorly and it did not seem promising. But in the middle of the second half, they went from 25-29 to 31-29 through great determination and will-power. However, in the end they went down 32-33, a bitter finish for a team that had to struggle without having any strong performances from veteran players to rely on.

Poland could then maintain their hope for a couple of hours, even if I suspect they did not have much faith in the chances of the Swedes to upset a determined Danish squad. And miracles did not happen. Denmark had a relatively easy time in defeating Sweden 31-24. So this means that Denmark obtained the remaining semi-final slot. Considering that they had to achieve this through three straight wins after having begun the main round with zero points, their turnaround is really quite remarkable. Poland then had to lower their ambitions and hope for at least a chance to go on to Olympic qualifying.

At the same time, Spain had been saving some energy, using some reserve players after already having their place in the semi-finals. But they still managed to pull out a win against Slovenia with 35-32, largely thanks to good goalkeeping and good shooting. This now sets up two intriguing semi-finals: Spain against Denmark and Serbia against Croatia. And it meant that the final games of the day, Serbia vs. FYRO Macedonia and Croatia vs. Hungary, had absolutely no importance in the standings for the Serbs and Croats who could instead be forgiven for looking ahead to the huge battle between the two of them on Friday. Unfortunately, serious incidents in the streets of Novi Sad have already suggested that the Croats will be up against more than the Serbian team on the court; they will be reminded of their ‘lack of popularity’ among many of the locals.

However, the two final games today did have a great importance for the final tickets to the Olympic qualifying tournaments. Hungary already have such tickets, and they could at best be aiming for 5th place this week. But by winning the game, they could prevent Slovenia from moving on and instead give Germany a chance to be in a qualifying tournament. . Talk about watching helplessly while placing your faith in others. The Slovenians would of course have to hope that Croatia play to the best of their capacity and win the game.

In the same way, the Polish team had to hope that the Serbs would not be good neighbors and allow the Macedonians to get two points. Because this would give the Macedonians a qualifying chance and move the Poles down to fifth place in the group. So what happened in the end?? Let me end the suspense and explain that, not unexpectedly, both Croatia and Serbia took it a bit easy. Croatia mostly rested their star players but, they still managed to gain a tie 24-24. This was enough to allow Slovenia to keep the third place in the group. Serbia allowed their key players, top scorer Ilic and goalkeeper Stanic, to rest. They still kept the game even almost until the end, but then the more motivated Macedonians pulled away and won 22-19. In other words, the Macedonians got the third place and also the chance to be in an Olympic qualifying tournament.

Germany will now go home disappointed. For Poland there is still a chance, as the complicated format has one more twist. Basically, the best two teams in EURO2012 who have not previously secured a spot will now get in through their result here. This means Serbia and the winner of the 5th place game between Slovenia and FYRO Macedonia, as the other three semifinalists are already qualified. However, if one of these three teams (Croatia, Denmark or Spain) were to win the Championship, then they will be directly qualified for London, and their place in a qualification tournament is freed up for Poland who were the team next in line from last year’s World Championship. Should instead Serbia become European champion, then both the winner and the loser of the 5th place game go on to the Olympic qualifying. I hope IHF and EHF have made this sufficiently challenging for you to follow!

Finally, as John Ryan has commented earlier, there is also the issue of more or less difficult qualifying groups. Sweden is currently sitting in a comfortable position, playing at home against Croatia, Japan and Chile, with two teams going on to London. But, should either Denmark or Spain become champions, then Sweden would move ‘up’ in the ranking and instead host a slightly less comfortable group with Hungary, Brazil and the winner between Slovenia and FYRO Macedonia. After their shaky performance this time, this is not so reassuring for the Swedes.

Breaking it down, here are the four possible tournament compositions:

If Serbia wins the EC
1) Denmark (Host), Hungary, Slovenia/Macedonia Winner, Algeria
2) Spain (Host), Iceland, Brazil, Slovenia/Macedonia Loser
3) Sweden (Host), Croatia, Japan, Chile

If Croatia wins the EC
1) Denmark (Host), Poland, Serbia, Algeria
2) Spain (Host), Hungary, Brazil, Slovenia/Macedonia Winner
3) Sweden (Host), Iceland, Japan, Chile

If Denmark wins the EC
1) Spain (Host) Poland, Serbia, Algeria
2) Sweden (Host), Hungary, Brazil, Slovenia/Macedonia Winner
3) Croatia (Host), Iceland, Japan, Chile

If Spain wins the EC
1) Denmark (Host) Poland, Serbia, Algeria
2) Sweden (Host), Hungary, Brazil, Slovenia/Macedonia Winner
3) Croatia (Host), Iceland, Japan, Chile